Monday, March 26, 2012

Weekend Report

Spent most of the weekend keeping an eye on a sick cat. Amelia had developed a urinary tract infection, much like her brother Bruce did last year. Fortunately that's not usually life threatening for female cats as it is for males. However it made her very uncomfortable and caused some other issues. I took her to the vet on Thursday and returned with mass quantities of pain meds and antibiotics, which I gave her all weekend. She was mostly fine by Sunday and seemed good this morning, but I will continue to give her the meds until they are used up.
So I didn't stray far from home all weekend. I watched the rest of Downton Abbey season two and a few more episodes of Tarzan. I read a ton of short stories by folks like Hugh B. Cave, Frank Belknap Long, Joseph Payne Brennan, and Loren D. Estleman. I'd forgotten how solid Estleman's short stories about private eye Amos Walker were. I started reading a current fantasy novel but gave it up about 100 pages in. I may talk more about that later. Or not.
I played Lord of the Rings Online a good bit. The new expansion which opened a couple of weeks back is the lead in to Rohan and there's more Viking looking stuff than you can shake a rune stick at. I need to get some screenshots up. More Medieval looking clothes and armor, so I'm enjoying the look of the new area quite a bit. I'm interested in what we'll see in Rohan proper.
Lotro seems to be doing very well, but I always wonder what will happen if the game goes away before we reach the end of the story. As I've explained before, the storyline in Lotro parallels the main story of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books. Your character is somewhat involved in the main plot, but primarily is having separate adventures at the same time that Frodo is trying to take the One Ring to Mordor.
Currently I just ran into Gandalf in Lothlorien for the first time since he was 'killed' in Moria. He's now Gandalf the White. A short dream sequence in the beginning of the new expansion also shows you what has become of the rest of the fellowship. They're right at the point where Boromir tries to take the ring and the fellowship is broken.
So presumably the orcs will soon make off with Merry and Pippin, which means I might see Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli when the game reaches Theoden's hall in Edoras. I wonder if we'll get to go to Helms Deep?
Anyway, that was the weekend. A little slow, but not bad.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Were-Wolf

  Just finished reading a very impressive horror story from the 1800s, The Were-wolf by Clemence Houseman. Set in Scandinavia, the tale tells of a beautiful woman with white-blonde hair who appears out of a snowstorm to enchant one of a pair of twin brothers. The other brother, out late, has followed the tracks of a huge wolf to the door of the community's great hall. He enters to find a stranger beguiling his friends and family, a beauty called White Fell.
   Houseman slowly builds the tension, filling this winters tale with accumulating horror, as the weaker of the twins comes to realize the visitor is a were-wolf, and as the stronger twin falls more and more under her spell. In the coming days villagers will disappear, brothers will clash, and blood will spill.
   This is a short novel really, though easily read at a sitting. I know nothing about Houseman, but she knows how to spin a creepy yarn. No less than H.P. Lovecraft said that the Were-Wolf “attains a high degree of gruesome tension and achieves to some extent the atmosphere of authentic folklore”.
Since this is a pre-Wolfman story, there's nothing about silver or nightshade. It's interesting that the were-wolf is vulnerable to holy water as this story also predates Dracula.
   In some  ways it reminds me a bit of Karl Edward Wagner's were-wolf tale Reflections for the Winter of My Soul with it's snowy setting and sibling rivalry. I suppose it's quite possible, perhaps even likely given KEW's vast knowledge of the horror genre, that he read this story.
   Anyway, the Were-Wolf is available free for the Kindle, and in several other places for free online, including Project Gutenberg, so look it up and check it out.

The Ape Man Regained

I've written before about how the character of Tarzan was a big part of my life when I was a kid. My mom owned all the Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan novels and she had a big collection of Tarzan comic books, so I've probably been aware of the ape man longer than any other fictional character. I was still a little young in 1966 to recall much about the original airing of the Tarzan TV series starring Ron Ely (I remember it being on, much as I do Batman and Star Trek, but not much beyond that.), but the show went into syndication after 1968, and so I saw quite a bit of it over the next few years. I liked it quite a bit, as Ely's portrayal was much closer to Edgar Rice Burroughs' original conception of Tarzan than the "Me Tarzan, you Jane" version popularized by the films of Johnny Weissmuller. This Tarzan is educated and speaks perfect English and Ely played Tarzan as a confident, compassionate, and likeable character.
Several years back I bought a set of bootleg DVDs of the 1960s Tarzan series. The picture quality was pretty bad, but I enjoyed seeing the series again. I just kept wishing that somebody would release an official DVD set of the series. In an odd coincidence, I learned that Warner Brothers was releasing Tarzan as part of their DVD on Demand line on the day that the DVDs were released. I ordered on the spot and they arrived Wednesday. I just now had a chance to sit down and watch the first episode and I have to congratulate Warner Brothers on a job well done. The image quality on these remastered DVDs is amazingly sharp and clear. In fact this is probably the clearest I've ever seen the show, given television quality in the 1960s-1970s when I last saw them. I'm very very pleased.
I'm a bit less pleased, that Amazon will be offering these same DVDs fifteen dollars cheaper than what I paid WB when they become available on the 27th of this month, but fortunately I only ordered the first half of the set from Warner, so I can get the second half for a better price.
One thing I did notice about the show that had escaped me as a child. Since the show was actually filmed in Mexico, many of the African 'natives' are pretty obviously Hispanic. I guess they figured no one would notice back in 1966.
In any case, I'm just glad the series is available again and in such high quality. Now I need a better set of the1970s Filmation Tarzan Cartoon show. Are you listening, Warner Brothers? (I think Warner has the rights, anyway.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Downton Abbey

I've gotten hooked on Downton Abbey. Yes, yes, I know. No barbarians. No swords. No monsters to speak of. But as I have occasionally mentioned, I am a hopeless anglophile. I've always enjoyed British literature and British films and television, and something about this big, lavishly produced soap opera just pulled me in. The acting is very good, the characters are interesting, and the period detail is amazing. I finished up the first season last week and I'm watching the second season now. I'm not finding the second season, with it's World War One setting, to be quite as enthralling as the first season, which was mostly about morals and manners and the vast differences between social classes, but it's still pretty darn interesting. The cast is really impressive, particularly Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess of Grantham, and Michelle Dockery as the strong willed Lady Mary Crawley. I kept thinking I'd seen Dockery before and I finally realized last night that she played Death's granddaughter Susan in the live action adaptation of Terry Pratchett's Hogfather.
Further Geek factor is added by Hugh Bonneville, who appeared as a pirate captain on last year's Doctor Who, and by fellow Doctor Who alumni Penelope Wilton, who I keep expecting to whip out an ID card and declare herself Harriet Jones, former prime minister. (Yes, we know who you are.)
Anyway, if you enjoy a little upstairs-downstairs style drama with excellent writing, acting and production values, check out Downton Abbey.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

John Carter

Just in from seeing John Carter. Overall I enjoyed it. I have quibbles of course. It's not as close an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' 'A Princess of Mars' as I might have wished for. There were the usual Hollywood changes in storyline for no discernible reasons. Nothing close to Conan, mind you, but the occasional What-tha? moment.
But here's the good part. It looks like Barsoom. Speaking as someone who read the Mars books over and over as a kid, this got pretty close to what I saw in my head. The fliers. The Thoats. The Tharks and the Warhoon. The look of the armor and clothing. (Though technically ERB's martians went mostly nude, but the designs on this looked very much in the Frazetta, Krenkel tradition.) Sure Woola, is a bit too cute, obviously aimed at the kids, but for the most part, I believed I was watching an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Contrast this with the debacle that was Conan the Barbarian, where only a few names were kept to protect the guilty. Here, entire scenes were pulled intact out of ERB. Carter's frustration as he attempted to learn to walk under the lower gravity of Mars. His discovery of the Thark Hatchery.
The screenwriters felt the need to saddle Carter with an "origin" which seemed to have been cobbled together from Jeremiah Johnson of Josey Wales, so he could have his 'character arc', but that was fairly easy to ignore. Actor Taylor Kitsch looked great in the part and his Southern accent wasn't overdone. Lynn Collins is stunning as the incomparable Dejah Thoris. James Purefoy was sadly underused as Kantos Kan. (It's actually making me smile to type those Barsoomian names, just as it did to hear them in the theater.)
The origins and motivations of the Therns made me think the screenwriters had been reading too much Michael Moorcock but I can see where they were trying to give the movie a structure that someone other than a John Carter fan would understand and enjoy.
There were rousing battles and many great action scenes, and the CGI characters were flawlessly integrated with the live action footage. You can tell some money was spent on this movie. Sadly, Disney's marketing dept released a slew of almost incomprehensible trailers, leaving the average viewer with no idea of what this movie was about and totally neglecting the romance angle of the film, which might have brought in more viewers who aren't fond of science fiction. It's apparently not doing great at the box office, and that's a shame, because while it's far from a perfect adaptation, it is very recognizably Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars on the Screen, and I'd like to see some more adventures there.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Even More Thunstone Art

Holy cow! Check out the second piece of artwork for the upcoming Haffner Press Complete John Thunstone. Raymond Swanland has really outdone himself. We can even see the inscription of Thunstone's sword. If your Latin is a little rusty it says "Sic pereant omnes inimici tui" — "thus perish all your enemies," a quotation from the book of Judges.
You can bet that this volume will end up on my "Weird Fiction" shelf.

Once again I'll post the link to the Haffner Page. They have a lot of really cool books and are working hard to keep the classic authors of science fiction, fantasy, and horror in print. Thanks to Stephen Haffner for sending this my way,

Monday, March 12, 2012

Ki-Gor and the Paradise That Time Forgot

I ordered the second volume in Altus Press's Ki-Gor:The Complete Series books a couple of weeks back. Finally sat down to read one of the stories last night. In this one, everyone's favorite Tarzan Knock-off tries to help the members of a lost safari get out of the jungle, mostly because he's irritated at having the three civilized people in what he considers his part of the jungle. Unfortunately he chooses the quickest route but not the safest, and one of the none too jungle savvy safari members falls into an inescapable valley.
This being a Ki-Gor story, the valley is inhabited by an unknown tribe of bushmen who have lived there for centuries and who have never seen anyone from the outside world. And they have mass quantities of gold, which leads one of the safari members to try and steal it. He manages to escape the formerly inescapable valley, using the rope that Ki-gor used to follow him down. Problem is, the bushmen hold Ki-Gor and his companions responsible for the theft and the penalty for stealing is death.
This is a pretty straightforward jungle hero adventure, and not one of the wilder sort of adventures Ki-Gor would have later in his career. The lost safari is one of the standard fall back tropes for Tarzan, Sheena, Kaanga, Bomba, and others of the jungle hero clan. However the writing in this one is much improved over some of the earlier Ki-Gor tales which appeared in volume one. Since no one is really sure who wrote which Ki-Gor stories, this could be because it was a different writer by this point. There are some attempts at characterization and the story barrels along with plenty of action.
I've mentioned before that Ki-Gor managed to outlast all the other Tarzan imitators by a long shot and the reason for that is two-fold I think. First, Ki-Gor comes the closest to the original model of all the Tarzan clones. He almost IS Tarzan. Second, the stories are almost always entertaining. Fiction House, Ki-Gor's publisher, wasn't the best paying of the pulp markets, but the Ki-Gor series is surprisingly good. Ki-Gor actually made more prose appearances than Tarzan, starring in more than 50 short novels.
The Altus Press book is a big, solid, trade paperback containing five Ki-Gor adventures. Some of the original pulp magazine illustrations are included as well. It could use an introduction, but I suppose the publishers felt that anyone seeking this book out would know who Ki-Gor was.
Anyway, I've found, much as the pulps readers of the 30s,40s, and 50s probably did, that when you've run out of Tarzan stories, Ki-Gor isn't a bad stand-in.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Weird Shelf

I've finally accumulated so many books of weird fiction other than Lovecraft that I've had to start a weird fiction area in my book cases. If you look you can see Kuttner, Wellman, Cave, Brennan, Campbell, and several others. The Gigantic Frank Belknap Long volume is below, sandwiched between Prince Valiant and Sherlock Holmes, mostly because that's the only shelf the book will fit on. That is Karl Edward Wagner's copy of The Broken Sword there by the two Carcosa books that belonged to his father. I wanted to keep all that stuff together. I will probably have to make more room soon for the two volume KEW set from centipede and some other books that are coming out.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Just Plain Scary

Last year, when I was reading through the volumes of DAW's The Year's Best Horror Stories, I kept track of which stories I found really scary. My favorite of these was From a Lower Deep by Hugh B. Cave. I was somewhat familiar with Cave, but hadn't read much of his stuff aside from some of his oldest pulp work. I have since corrected this and what I have discovered is that Cave has written some of the just plain scariest horror stories I've ever come across. I was reminded of this recently as I read through my Whispers anthologies. Cave has stories in four of the six volumes and two of them, The Door Below and Ladies in Waiting, are true spine chillers. Over the weekend I read some more of Cave's stories from the Carcosa collection, Murgunstrumm and Others, including Cave's two contributions to the Cthulhu Mythos, The Isle of Dark Magic and The Death Watch and I was reminded again of what a solid writer cave was. His style is very straightforward, without a lot of bells and whistles, but his storytelling momentum seldom flags, even when you're trying to dig your heels in and keep him from showing you the horrible things that wait on the next page.
I was talking to Cliff about Cave and he agreed that Cave is another vastly underrated horror writer, like Manly Wade Wellman and Joseph Payne Brennan. I'm really glad once again, that my study of the work of Karl Edward Wagner has led to my discovery of Cave and the others.
I have two collections of Hugh B. Cave's stories on the way, The Door Below and Death Stalks the Night. The second book was actually planned as the fifth Carcosa volume but it wasn't released and was later brought out by Fedogan and Bremer. I also have one of Cave's novels heading my way. Hopefully I can save some of this for Halloween.
Anyway, if you haven't tried Hugh B. Cave, track some of his stuff down. But leave the lights on.

In the Details...

Ever have one of those memories from when you were a kid where you weren't sure if something really happened or you dreamed it? For many years I've had a vague memory of seeing a horror movie one rainy Sunday at my grandmother's house. All I could recall was that there was a scene where a bunch of people were standing inside a chalk circle in a library or study and a ghostly man on a winged horse rode into the room to threaten them.
A few weeks ago I was watching the introduction to a documentary on Hammer Horror Films and lo and behold one of the clips they showed in a montage was the very scene I was remembering. Christopher Lee and three other folks inside a circle which had been chalked on the wooden floor of a library, and a strange rider on a winged steed rides into the room. Unfortunately it was but one clip of many and the film wasn't identified. However, knowing Lee was the star and that Hammer had made the film, I was able to deduce the identity of the film using the Internet Movie Data Base. The movie was The Devil Rides Out, made in 1968. Obviously I'd caught a rerun of it one afternoon when my grandmother wasn't home. (No way she'd have let me watch that.)
So then I bumped over to Youtube to see if someone had uploaded a trailer, and found that someone had uploaded the entire movie. So I just sat right down and watched it. Very enjoyable movie. Holds up well to be 44 years old.
Christopher Lee plays the Duc de Richleau, an expert in the occult. Richleau learns that the son of an old friend has fallen under the influence of the charismatic Mr. Mocata, the leader of a Satanist cult. Mocata (played with sinister relish by Charles Gray) plans to baptize the son and a young woman into the service of Satan at a Mayday sabbat. After a series of harrowing adventures and supernatural threats, Richleau and his friends manage to spirit the two young people away, but Mocata gathers his not inconsiderable occult powers and sends even more horrible creatures and finally the angel of death to carry out his revenge. Richleau and three companions spend a long and horrible night within the boundaries of a protective circle chalked on the floor of a library in an old country manor house.
This is one of the classier Hammer films, with good production values and excellent special effects for the time. It has a couple of genuinely shuddersome moments. It's good to see Christopher Lee playing the hero in a Hammer film.
One thing I thought of as I watched The Devil Rides Out, is that with a few modifications it could have served very well as a John Thunstone film. Lee is very much in the mode of Manly Wade Wellman's occult investigator, fighting creatures from the outer dark while nattily attired in a crisp black suit. Oh, and the character of Mocata is fairly obviously based on occultist Aleister Crowley as was Thunstone's nemesis Rowley Thorne.
Anyway, glad to finally solve the mystery of my vague memory from childhood. It took a little detective work, but as often is the case, the devil was in the details.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Passing it On

A while back, when my pal Cliff was very active in Science Fiction Fandom, writer Piers Anthony gave Cliff a massive collection of old SF magazines. The only stipulation Anthony made was that if Cliff ever tired of them, he couldn't sell them or throw them away, but had to give them to some other fans to enjoy. Over the last couple of years Cliff has allowed me to look through the magazines and take what I liked. There's been some cool stuff, including the original publications of various sword and sorcery stories by Michael Moorcock, Lin Carter, and so forth.
Cliff originally thought that he had given all the magazines away, but while moving boxes of books and comics to his second house, he found a few more boxes of magazines. He brought one box into the store (Dr. No's Games and Comics) Wednesday night and allowed Jim and I to paw through them and take what we wanted.
Among my choices were a 1944 issue of Astounding with a C. L. Moore story, two 1945 issues of Astounding with a two part serial by Fritz Leiber, and a 1970 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction with one of Manly Wade Wellman's Sherlock Holmes pastiches. The two sword & sorcery gems were the February 1966 FaSF, featuring L. Sprague de Camp's expansion of Robert E. Howard's Conan synopsis The Hall of the Dead, and my favorite of the lot, the April 1970 issue of FaSF, which was the original publication of Fritz Leiber's classic novella, Ill Met in Lankhmar.
I chose a few other issues at random with stories by Harlan Ellison, Isacc Asimov, and Poul Anderson. Names to conjure with.
Anyway, Cliff made the same stipulation that Piers Anthony had made. Take what you like but you have to keep them or pass them on to someone else who would enjoy them. I don't think that will be a problem.